Sant Iago - Miraculous Myths, Fantastic Fables, and the Golden Legend - or "Will the real Santiago please reveal himself!"
Recently I put a post on Facebook listing the numerous places in Europe that claimed to have a relic of St James the Greater. Santiago wasn't the first town to claim a relic of Saint James - various relics had been around for almost 300 hundred years before he was identified in Spain.
So far I have been able to find three bodies and fifteen heads, two pieces of heads, a number of arms, hands, fingers and other limbs. I expected to be challenged with denials or disbelief. But, there has been nothing like that and not one of the 30 or so people who have replied have shown any surprise or contradiction.
I doubt the pilgrim numbers will go down!
Helene Augusta, the ageing mother of Constantine, visits Jerusalem in the 4th century and miraculously discovers the three Calvary crosses. In order to determine which is the cross used to crucify Jesus, she brings a dead girl to the site. When the girl is laid down on top of the True Cross she comes back to life!
Helene divided the cross leaving a part of it in Jerusalem and had other parts sent to religious leaders in Rome and Constantinople, modern-day Istanbul in Turkey. The first written records of the story of Helene finding the True Cross appear by the end of the fourth century.
This is only one of the legends about the cross; the 13th century Golden Legend, which became a medieval best seller, contains several versions of the discovery of the true cross, but it is the one about Helene that became the favourite in the middle ages.
The cult of Saint James was widespread across Europe and reports of his relics go back to the 6th century. According to Prof. Leyser, an arm of James the Great was preserved in Torcello near Venice from about the 6th Century. It passed through the hands of Bishop Vitalis, and then Germany via Archbishop Adalbert of Hamburg-Bremen, the Emperors Henry 1V and Henry V.
In 1125 Henry V’s widow Matilda brought the left hand of Saint James to England (there is no proof that she did the pilgrimage to Santiago). In the early 1190’s a list of over 240 relics in Reading Abbey in England included ‘the hand of Saint James with flesh and bones and the cloth in which it was wrapped’ and this became the most important relic in the abbey with many miracles attributed to it.
In his book “The Cult of Santiago: traditions, myths and pilgrimages” (1927) the Rev. James S. Stone writes about the many relics of St James found in Europe.